Are you a model citizen? You are? Oh come on, I’ll bet you just say that in front of other folks to look good. Hey, I’m your buddy. You can tell me the truth: You actually live a life of, well, crime; don’t you? It’s kind of like the Spanish Inquisition; you lead a life of heresy by thought. I thought you did. I know I do.
For example, when official-looking papers come in the mail, what do you immediately think? "It’s a bill for gas? Oh joy!" or, "Precious! This looks like it comes from my friends down at the tax office!" No you don’t, do you? When you see official looking papers in your mailbox, you actually just want to trash them and get on the first flight to the closest tax-free haven that has a beach and palm trees. Right?
Well, sorry my friends. That’s against the law. Heresy by thought is a sin; therefore "Under God" it is a crime. It logically follows that if you have even one teensy-weensy inkling like this, then you are an enemy of the State — a State under God, I might add. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
Look, there are smart criminals and there are stupid criminals. Stupid criminals do dumb things like rob convenience stores for $60. Smart criminals do stuff like electronically stealing $100 gazillion dollars and wiring it to themselves as they sit on a beach in Southern France. You wanna be dumb, or you wanna be smart? Smart right?
You are either a criminal or you are not. You either do or you don’t. There is no halfway. Which is it? Lords knows how much of a struggle I have everyday staying on the straight and narrow.
Let me tell you how I handle my own criminal heretic thoughts: I don’t have them. That’s right. It used to be that whenever I saw official looking papers in the mail, I trashed them immediately. I used to throw all official looking papers away without even opening them. Boom! In the bin! I didn’t even think about it.
#4 should say: Treat it as suspect. Throw it in the trash.
One day, though, the mail got so bad that I decided that I should not even look at it so I decided to even stop opening the mail box. So now I don’t. In fact, I don’t even know how to, it’s locked; and I don’t know the combination. I figure it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. I don’t want to know what’s in my mail; I don’t want to know the combination to my mailbox. I figure the more you know about what’s in your mailbox, the less intelligent you become.
There was a while there when I was getting court orders to appear someplace unfriendly. They came all the time. I didn’t like those at all. Being an illiterate (and stupid) foreigner, I actually bothered to open the first few. Boy, was that a mistake. I’m a bad liar, so if I knew what was in the mail, I’d have a hard time denying knowledge of it. After that I started throwing them away without even opening them. Is it in a manila envelope? Yep? In the bin it went; just like direct mail. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?
This kept me happy for the longest time, until one day, they started to get serious. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those manila envelopes started coming every week and they had some words on them hand-stamped in red. I think the words were something like "IMPORTANT!" It still didn’t matter; I threw them away.
That is, until the day the phone call came.
There was some lawyer telling me that if I didn’t appear in court, that I would lose the case. I told him to, "Get lost" (well, not in such nice words as those) and hung up the phone on him. A few months later, the lawyer showed up in person. I guess in Japan, regular people don’t serve summons to other folks (that wouldn’t be polite). So the lawyer told me that if I didn’t show up in court, that they’d take my kids away. I told them I understood, and then asked them to kindly send me another court-ordered summons — they did. When the summons came, I wrote something along the lines of, "The day you (expletive deleted) make me show up in court is the day I take my kids out of this (expletive deleted) country." Then I mailed the summons back. Guess what? A few days later, they sent me a letter saying that they were dropping the court case against me. Justice is served!
God, do I love being a foreigner in Japan; if you are a foreigner in Japan, you can get away with grand larceny (I am only exaggerating here of course).
A couple of days ago, a new kind of manila envelope showed up in the mail. As I never open the mailbox anymore, my wife grabbed it and dragged it into our humble abode.
"Throw it away." I grumbled.
"No. I can’t." She replied, "It’s from the government."
"Okay, now you know who it’s from. Throw it away."
"You just be quiet. I’m in charge of what goes on at this household. I will decide what to do with this." Snarled Barbarella.
Being more intelligent than my wife, I always allow her to think that she is actually in-charge (even though I am). That way, if I ever need any money, she’ll give it to me without too much grief. I just chuckled to myself under my breath.
"As you wish, my dear." I graciously added eyeing the Cognac in my crystal.
It seems that the Japanese government takes a census every five years and wants to know who lives where and how many of you there are. So my wife fills out the form, puts it back into The Envelope, and tells me, "The man will come to pick this up at 10 am on Monday. You be here and hand this to him." What a waste of time, I think. Okay, I wait. And I wait. And I wait some more; then some more. By 1 o’clock, I’m pretty pissed off. By 3 pm I’m really pissed. By 5 pm, I’ve given up and the wife and kid come home. I’m in bed by 8:30 pm when the doorbell rings. It’s the census guy. The wife tells me to give him The Envelope.
I answer the door. He’s a pretty typical-looking Japanese bureaucrat-type: Wears glasses; white shirt and a tie; bows profusely at the door. He’s carrying a huge bag full of other envelopes that look just like ours.
He tells me he wants The Envelope. I decide to be uncooperative and give the guy a hard time. I tell him that I am awfully worried about terrorists and that I do not want to compromise the safety of my family by giving out this sort of information easily. He says he understands my concerns. I ask for his ID card. It’s hanging around his neck and he shows it to me, but it doesn’t have his picture on it, only his name and number. I pull it close to me — choking him at the same time — and look at the card closely.
"Quickly, what’s your number?" I demand.
He repeats the number on the card. So good, so far; but wait a minute — This card has no photograph of Mr. Miyashita (That’s his name — or so he claims).
"I’ll need to see some photo identification, Mr. Miyashita; your driver’s license. May I see your driver’s license please?"
The guy starts patting at his back pants pockets but comes up empty. He looks totally cowered. I’ve got him. He starts bowing even more. He doesn’t have any photo ID.
"Mr. Rogers (perhaps not my real name), I will come back tomorrow morning and bring a photo ID." He volunteers.
"Oh, no you won’t!" I argue back. "You’re taking The Envelope from me right now!" Humph! That’ll fix him, I think. There’s no way, he’s going to trick me into sitting around here all day again. I shove The Envelope into his face. He takes it and bows again. Then he starts asking me a bunch of stupid questions like:
"How many people live here?"
What!? What the hell was this census form for? I think. "It’s all written down on the forms, Mr. Miyashita."
He pulls out the forms and says, "I see. You have three people living here currently?"
"Well, yes and no." I answer. "Legally, there are five people living here. But recently there have been three. I have teenage daughters…"
"Oh?" He frets. "If you have five, you will have to fill out two more forms."
"Oh no! No way! You’re not getting me to fill out anymore forms." I say.
"But, Mr. Roberts (Hell, close enough — I know who he’s talking to) if five people live here, you must fill out two more forms."
"Listen, Mr. Miyashita, have you ever had teenage daughters? No? Okay, well, then just trust me when I say that I have no idea where they are."
He then opens this huge book that has the rules for the census forms written out in literally hundreds of languages. He shows me the one written in German (He did, really!) It says something about Das tuten-rootin’ Frankenreiter or something like that. I tell him I understand, and that the forms should be fine as they are as they meet the ruled requirements as I understand them.
He bows to me. I bow to him and off he goes with the census forms for our family for Japan 2005. What a wonderful system too. Counting my two daughters (or not counting my two daughters as the case may be) will only allow for a 40% (or is it 80%) margin of error one way or the other.
Heck, if they need clarification, they can always send me another letter.
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has the distinction of being fired from every FM radio station in Tokyo — one of them three times. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.